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Digital Privacy Group Files FTC Complaint Against Uber

Skift Take

Nearly every technology startup takes way more information from users than users would be comfortable with if they truly understood what they were giving up.

— Jason Clampet

Uber Technologies Inc. shouldn’t track customers when they aren’t using the ride-sharing application, according to a complaint filed with the Federal Trade Commission on Monday by a digital-privacy group.

Under Uber’s new privacy policy, which is scheduled to go into effect July 15, the ride-sharing service plans to seek customers’ permission to collect location and address book information when the app is running in the background, according to the complaint from the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington, D.C. The group is asking the FTC to investigate and force Uber to end practices that EPIC says aren’t necessary for the company to carry out its ride-sharing service.

“What the company calls a privacy announcement actually serves a different purpose,” said Julia Horwitz, a coordinator at EPIC. “It actually gives the company many more permissions.”

While Uber states that location services may be disabled to prevent the app from gathering location data, the complaint says that “Uber can still collect location information through the phones’ IP addresses.”

Uber says it will allow users to opt out of these features. However, while users with iOS phones can disable the contact syncing option by changing the contacts setting on their phones, the Android mobile platform doesn’t offer any such setting, according to the FTC filing.

‘No Basis’

“There is no basis for this complaint,” Uber said in an e-mailed statement. Uber said it has revised its privacy policies to be more transparent and doesn’t collect background location data and has no plans to start doing so July 15. The company said it receives Internet-protocol addresses as part of the traffic data that all apps receive and that users can choose to turn off location data on their devices and input their locations manually.

Justin Cole, a spokesman for the FTC, said the agency carefully reviews complaints from consumers. He declined to comment on whether the agency is investigating Uber’s practices.

The complaint is the latest hurdle facing Uber, which has come under pressure for its criticisms of journalists and its privacy practices. Online publication BuzzFeed said in November that one of its reporters was tracked by an Uber executive without her permission. Senator Al Franken, a Minnesota Democrat, has called for Uber to answer questions about its privacy policies. The company recently hired a law firm to conduct an internal review.

‘Rides of Glory’

Uber has also blogged about tracking so-called “rides of glory,” or customers who use the service between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m. on a Friday or Saturday night and then order a ride home 4-6 hours later, according to a post on the company’s website.

That kind of tracking, also known as “God view,” which allows Uber to see where customers are going and where they’ve been, infringe privacy, according to EPIC’s Horwitz.

The FTC hosted a workshop this month to look into privacy concerns surrounding peer-to-peer businesses such as Uber and Airbnb Inc., a home-sharing platform. The commission is charged with enforcing consumer protection in addition to antitrust laws.

The FTC’s crackdown on privacy violations by companies includes settlements with technology giants Google Inc. and Facebook Inc. and photo messaging service Snapchat Inc.

–With assistance from David McLaughlin in Washington and Eric Newcomer in San Francisco.

This article was written by Rachel Adams-Heard from Bloomberg and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

Tags: privacy, uber
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